Know Your Target Company - Part One
In the past I have talked about the importance of preparing for an interview, particular in terms of dress code and presentation. But I failed to mention the most important point of preparation of all - researching the company you are applying to and the industry that it is active in.
With the current slow economy, companies are becoming meticulous about checking what makes a candidate tick and how the person will be able to contribute in an immediate way to the company. Clearly, a candidate who knows what the company does and offers insights and ideas on how to help it successfully compete in a marketplace is going to be able to stimulate the interviewer and open the door for the second round.
I am always surprised by the number of Japanese candidates in particular who go into interviews having only read the Positions Vacant ad that they're responding to in order to find out what the company does. This is NOT adequate preparation. You are about to embark on a major change in your life, so you owe it to yourself to be properly prepared and informed before you make the interview appointment. On the hirer's side as well, many HR Managers are interested in whether the candidate knows the industry - especially if they are applying for an entry-level position.
So just how do you find out what a company does and who they are? The first stop is their web site. For a big picture overview, evaluate whether the company has made a decent effort to represent themselves properly in both English and Japanese. Judge whether the CEO has a strong presence on the site (indicating a strong hands-on management), or is the site more "corporate"? For specific information, of course, you need to look through their press releases, their published partners, history, and outline of senior management. It's often surprising how much about themselves a company will reveal online.
Beyond the web site, you can call the company's HR Manager and ask for any company information for new job candidates. If they don't have any, either the company is too small (thus that becomes a risk factor) or if they are a larger and better known company, they may have a high number of resumes already coming in and feel no need to produce additional collateral. These companies often use their popularity to push down salaries and conditions, thus making this a risk factor as well. I think most normal companies should at least be able to send you a Company Guide.
Other sources include your watching recruiting ads on web sites, in the Japan Times, The Daily Yomiuri and elsewhere. By following hiring needs of a particular company over a few months, you can figure out what they are doing in terms of new business and expansion. Then, too, you can check out the parent company website overseas. Most foreign multinationals in Japan are highly dependent on events back home and are subject to the same lay-offs, head count freezes, new project roll-outs, etc., as the headquarters. Especially if you are a technology person, look for announcements of company-wide SAP roll-outs and similar initiatives which usually mean a number of new jobs requiring new skills being created. Hiring requirements are usually relaxed when a big new project is being implemented and a team size has been predetermined.
Another source of information is your local recruiter (such as our very own Ambition Consulting). These people are well versed about who is in the market and have heard from hundreds of candidates what they think of their former employers - a veritable goldmine of information in fact. This allows them to draw a pretty accurate picture of what a particular company is like and how they treat their employees. Of course, this information is often confidential, so your questions to the recruiter need to be generalized. Try asking on a basis of rating the company against some of their competitors - so that the recruiter doesn't have to divulge what he/she knows and yet can give you a gauge of any problems or opportunities.
If you are considering a career in the recruiting industry, you can drop Terrie Lloyd an email for more advice at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also see his weekly newsletter, called Terrie's Take, at www.terrie.com.